Quasar Drenched in Water Vapor
This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255, where astronomers discovered huge amounts of water vapor. Gas and dust likely form a torus around the central black hole, with clouds of charged gas above and below. X-rays emerge from the very central region, while thermal infrared radiation is emitted by dust throughout most of the torus. While this figure shows the quasar's torus approximately edge-on, the torus around APM 08279+5255 is likely positioned face-on from our point of view.

Astronomers have discovered a huge water vapor cloud floating around a black hole in space. The cloud is so big that it holds 140 trillion times the mass of water in the Earth's oceans, say scientists.

It is approximately situated 12 billion light years away from the Earth. This cloud is reportedly floating around a black hole and is the largest discovery of water in the whole universe. The black hole in question which is under observation is around 20 billion times greater than the Sun.

The quantity of water in that cloud is so huge that it could be supplied to every person on Earth, 20,000 times over. Apparently, it is also 100,000 times more massive than the Sun.

"Since astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early universe, the discovery of water is not itself a surprise," the Carnegie Institution, one of the groups behind the findings, said.

"The water cloud was found to be in the central regions of a faraway quasar."

"Quasars contain massive black holes that are steadily consuming a surrounding disk of gas and dust; as it eats, the quasar spews out amounts of energy," the institution said in its statement.

This enormous discovery is a part of a Quasar study called "APM 08279+5255."

"The environment around this Quasar is very unique in that it's producing this huge mass of water. It's another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times," said NASA scientist Matt Bradford.

Observations on this black hole started in 2008 at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii and in the French Alps.

One group used a tool called z-spec and the other used the Plateau de Bure in determining the size of the reservoir.

These unique instruments observe millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths which allow for the discovery of trace gases (or huge reservoirs of water vapor) in the early universe. These groups detected several spectral signatures of water in the Quasar, which gave researchers the information needed to determine the enormous size of the reservoir.

Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before.

The research team comprised a wide array of international talent. The Carnegie Institution's Eric Murphy headed up the study.

Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation and the partner institutions.